Judge refuses discharge without conviction, and fines captain of overturned waka
The captain of an ocean-going waka that capsized trying to cross the difficult Whakatāne bar has been fined $1350 in Wellington District Court.
Six people were tipped into the sea after the waka, Nuku Taiao, on a voyage from Gisborne to Whakatāne, capsized at the shallow bar at the entrance to the Whakatāne river during high swells.
The day before, the bar had been declared unworkable by the harbourmaster as it had two metre swells, and the court was told Takirirangi Clarence Smith, a master carver and teacher of traditional Maori navigation, had known that.
However, early on the morning of January 22, 2016, the crew had not heard any radio transmissions about the bar, and Smith decided to go in close to see if it could be crossed.
Judge Peter Hobbs said the waka became overwhelmed in the conditions and capsized.
All the crew went into the water, and some of them trapped beneath the waka. They had to be rescued.
Smith pleaded guilty to doing an act or causing an act that caused unnecessary danger to person or property, and asked for a discharge without conviction, saying his reputation and standing were damaged by what had happened.
"There is no reason your mana is diminished in any way from this," the judge told Smith.
He said it was clear Smith was remorseful and had been concerned about the welfare of his crew. He had undertaken a marae-based restorative justice process in Whakatāne even before he spoke to a maritime investigator.
However, the judge said Smith knew the bar was unworkable and had taken the waka close, but had been unable to save it from its ultimate fate. In doing that, he had risked injury to the crew.
He said it was not wilful or deliberate, but Smith should have been aware of the risks.
He said he did not think there should be a discharge without conviction. He convicted and fined him.
The incident came four days after the PeeJay V White Island Tours vessel caught fire and sank, forcing 60 people to jump into the sea, a few hundred metres further out to sea.
Smith's lawyer, Paul David QC, said it was an error of judgment and Smith was remorseful. He had done all he could to repair the error, even self-reporting the accident to Maritime New Zealand.
David said the effect of the accident weighed heavily on a person of his standing and good character.